Remembering Gene Rodgers

Remembering Gene Rodgers

by Eric Clow

Gene Rodgers was many things. Far more than I could hope to cover in a blog article. He was a writer, performer, adventurer, activist, traveler, thrill-seeker, and TV producer. He was a dear friend to many in the disability community and beyond. He was a lover of pierogies and a ceaseless jokester, always the first to make a wisecrack. Though we miss him terribly, we reflect on his life with gratitude, gratitude that his life was so full, and that he shared it with us. He accomplished and experienced more than most people, disabled or not.

A photo of Gene with a neat beard and wearing a blue, button-up shirt and a brown-and-gray Safari hat. He smiles while looking to the side of the camera.

It isn’t hip to say you’re inspired by someone with a disability, but that’s exactly how I feel about Gene. Often when a disabled person is deemed “inspirational,” it’s because they bothered to get out of bed. We’re so saturated with the term that it’s lost its meaning. To inspire means to “fill someone with the urge or ability to do or feel something.” Gene lived a BIG life, and that gives me the urge to live a big life of my own. It instills the feeling that a big life is within my reach. It encourages me to mount my own thrilling adventures, though I think I’ll stop short of bungee jumping.

In the weeks since Gene’s passing, this has been the overwhelming emotion. A sense that my wildest dreams may be possible, that achieving them is worth the effort. And, of course, there’s a sadness that we won’t share any more meals, any other adventures. Thankfully, Gene captured some of his greatest moments in videos, photos, and words. I find comfort in these memories, in Gene’s voice and charisma, in his wicked sense of humor. I hope you will, too.

A photo shows Gene in his late-20s on a South American expedition with other individuals with disabilities. He sits in a manual wheelchair and wears 80s-style attire, large sunglasses, and a shade hat with his arms held loosely to his sides. His care attendant pushes him up a rough paved road.

Gene the Adventurer

Gene was an adventure sports enthusiast. His exploits included scuba diving, sailing, bungee jumping, paragliding, skydiving, and even riding atop an elephant. He explored 44 countries on six continents. Enjoy this highlights reel set to the bluesy groove of his friend Jeff Moyer’s “Yes, I Can!”

“Popcorn Predator”

Gene was a long-time participant in Actual Lives Austin, a performance project that transformed the raw material of disability life into theatre. In this memorable piece, Gene recounts his struggle and ultimate triumph over a packet of microwave popcorn. Watch “Popcorn Predator” here.

“Who Works Monday”

In Actual Lives, Gene met and befriended fellow performer, Dave Dauber. Dave dreamt that he couldn’t remember which of his care attendants was helping him the next day, and he woke up asking, “who works Monday?” Gene helped him write a skit that they filmed and edited in time to be shown in the lobby before the next Actual Lives show. The result was a hilarious disability take on Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First.” The audience loved it and encouraged Gene and Dave to create a TV show.

The Gene and Dave Show

Gene and Dave soon launched The Gene and Dave Show, a disability-focused infotainment show that aired on Access Austin. Over the next 15 years, they offered an informative and humorous glimpse into disability culture, spreading awareness and winning awards in the process. If you’ve never seen The Gene and Dave Show, this best-of compilation is a great place to start.

You can watch all Gene and Dave Show episodes here.

A photo of Gene and Dave posing with their freshly-awarded Lynn Marie Johnson Media Arts Award at the 2019 Art Spark Artist of the Year Awards. They both smile while seated in their power wheelchairs and wearing official “The Gene and Dave Show” golf shirts. Their friend, Coalition of Texans with Disabilities Executive Director Dennis Borrel, smiles while posing between the two.

Team Everest

Trekking to Everest Base Camp might have been Gene’s most ambitious undertaking. This climb, sponsored by the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, challenged Gene physically and mentally, but it gave him a lot to write about. You can read the adventure in his own words in this six-part blog series.

A book cover shows a photo of Gene suspended high in the air beside a cliff in the American Southwest. His wheelchair is supported by ropes and clamps, and a fellow climber reaches out from the cliff to grasp one of the wheels. The following text appears over the photo, “Awesome by Accident: How adapting to a “tragic accident” led me to create my extraordinary life, Gene R. Rodgers.”  

Read more about Gene’s life in his autobiography, Awesome by Accident.

Celebrate Gene’s Life

Join us at Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge on Saturday, May 6th at 12:45 PM for a celebration of Gene’s life. Afterward we’ll head to Green Mesquite Barbeque on Barton Springs Road for more stories and memories.

We’ll also be honoring Gene with a tribute by his friend, Dave Dauber, as well as a reading of Gene’s story, “Ice Cream Angel,” at our Virtual Open Mic Sunday, May 7th at 1 PM. We hope to see you there!

1 thought on “Remembering Gene Rodgers”

  1. Gene Rodger’s Memorial Sonnet

    March 20, 2023

    Oh Gene when I learned that you had left us here
    Never again to laugh at your ready wit,
    In our grief one truth becomes painfully clear;
    A giant has been taken from our midst.
    Gene your plans and then that terrible fall,
    Learning to live in your broken body,
    Alaska traded for warm Southwest’s call;
    Advocating rights for everybody!
    On screen host producing television,
    Your world travels and feats of derring-do-
    Then memoir gives us your heart’s clear vision,
    We can live large passed tragedy it’s true.
    Friends and family we have faith
    That we will never die.
    Geno leaps in triumph
    Accessible sweet by and by.

    With painful love,
    Jeff and Cristi Moyer

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